Penang: Cakes at China House

China House is without doubt one of the yuppiest, trendiest hang out places I’ve ever been to. And who would of thought you could find a place like this in Penang!

I always associate Penang with shop houses, authentic hawker stalls and my grandma’s seriously retro house which has remained exactly the same for the past 40 years:

China House is the perfect mix of traditional and modern. It is built on the premises of three old-style Chinese houses and has cleverly retained and incorporated many of their original features. The shops, cafes, restaurants and galleries of China House follow the thin, corridor-like layout of the original houses. The cafe at the front is low key and casual with tables covered with white paper and a glass full of crayons meaning that you won’t be bored whilst waiting for your meal.

Then there is a huge long table filled with sumptuous looking cakes and desserts and further on there is the restaurant with an eclectic mix of mismatched furniture and interesting wall art.  There is also a a wine cellar and reading room, a large outdoor courtyard area which leads onto the bar and live music stage right at the end.

The food is a variety of Western-style dishes (ribs, roast chicken and a wide range of salads); you can view a sample menu here. We had homemade lamb sausages with couscous and warm feta dressing, chicken schnitzel with mashed potatoes and salad and a prawn and avocado salad.

The food was tasty, but I have to admit that at RM50-60 per main course I expected more for the price and the environment we were in.

One thing I absolutely cannot complain about are the cakes. Even though we were almost completely stuffed from a rather substantial lunch and then dinner, we HAD to find space to at least try some of the delicious cakes they had on show. There was so much to choose from, tiramisu cake, pear upside down cake, double chocolate brownies,  cheese cake, mango sponge, vanilla shortbreads….and that’s less than half of the selection!

In the end we went for a slice of passionfruit and coconut cream cake, devil’s food cake and a mini ginger creme brûlée. The portions are HUGE and at RM10-15 per slice it is well worth your money.

Devil’s food cake

Ginger creme brûlée

With all the authority of a family who have tasted a myriad of cakes in their lifetime, we can conclude that these cakes are delicious. If I had more time in Penang I would definitely want to revisit the China House. Probably not for dinner, cooked food does not seem to be their particular forte, but for cakes and presumably desserts too, I wouldn’t have to think twice.

Passion fruit and coconut cream cake

One warning I have though is for those of you who are used to the UK’s ban on smoking in public places. As we were going to be having dinner there we were seated in a lovely part of the restaurant close to the courtyard, but just after we had ordered our drinks a table of three was seated right next to us. They immediately all lit up and our table was immediately swathed in the smell of smoke. When we asked to move to a non-smoking section we were informed that the only non-smoking area consists of a few tables in the cafe section. As we had no choice we moved to the front, to a busier, less formal ambience.

This wasn’t too much of a problem for us as we didn’t mind having the paper tablecloths and crayons, but it is something to bear in mind if you are a non-smoker and thinking of going for an occasion or if you are after a particular dining experience. Perhaps contact the restaurant in advance and they may be able to secure you a non-smoking area in the restaurant…

Other than that, I can thoroughly recommend the China House. It’s setting is truly beautiful and unique. And of course I cannot stop raving about their cakes ;)

China House
153-155 Lebuh Pantai
10350 Penang
Tel: +604.263.7299

Photos by Daniel Kan.

Satay and Ice Kacang
Eastern and Oriental Afternoon Tea 
Green and Healthy at Karen Kitchen

Penang: Satay and Ice Kacang

A huge part of life in Penang is street food and we’re not talking about the overly clean, white-tiled hawker centres which are ever more prevalent in Singapore. These hawker centres are bustling, humid and a bit dirty. But we go to them because it’s tasty and authentic. Real Malaysian food.

Satay at one of the roadside food stalls in Pulau Tikus

During this short trip to Penang my dad had a mission to eat as much satay as possible. Back in the UK satay is so expensive…and never as tasty… so we ordered 40 sticks of chicken, lamb and beef satay and it’s served with a sweet peanut sauce, cucumber, onion and ketupat (steamed rice squashed into blocks). Delicious!

Top: Chendol, Bottom: Ice kacang

Then yesterday afternoon we went to savour some of the traditional Malaysian desserts we dream about when we’re back home.

The best ice kacang in Penang is said to be sold at New World Park so we headed there for some refreshment on a particularly humid day. I’m not usually a fan of Chinese desserts, but in the heat of the day it was impossible to turn down the shaved ice and chilled coconut milk of the chendol.

My mum found the ice kacang to be tasty, but we were a little perturbed as it doesn’t usually come with fresh fruits, and (wisely) steered clear of them because the fruits on the stall were pre-cut, uncovered and had numerous flies crawling over them.

Perhaps the search for the best ice kacang should continue…

Cakes at China House
Eastern and Oriental Afternoon Tea
Green and Healthy at Karen Kitchen

Some Thoughts on Plane Food

There are two sorts of people in this world. Those who like plane food. And those who don’t.  I belong to the latter group.

I do recognise that there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to plane food, but I also know that no matter what it is, whether it is an indescribable orange sludge or the latest gourmet airline meal created by a celebrity chef, it will make me feel ill.

The fact of the matter is that you have been sitting in the same position unnaturally close to the person next to you exchanging the same oxygen deprived stale air for goodness how many hours. Even though you aren’t hungry you have eaten a tiny bag of salted peanuts and drunk a plastic cup of orange juice and even though the food smells like only plane food can (have you noticed it pretty much all smells the same?) you will still eat it all just because it’s something to do.

And why is it always accompanied with a bread roll?

My one rule for plane food during a long haul flight: never order an egg based meal. Even at the best of times egg is a fickle thing, it’s so easy to get it wrong and on a plane it is almost certainly guaranteed to be disappointing and possibly vomit-inducing.

Sweet and sour prawns with fried rice

This is the first meal I had on my 13 hour flight to Singapore a couple of days ago. Singapore Airlines was named second best airplane food provider by Skyscanner, a flight comparison website (first place went to Turkish Airlines). It certainly looks better than some of the horrendous excuses for food I’ve seen in the past, but I really think there’s nothing you can do to disguise the fact that the food has been slowly warming and continually cooking for the past 5 hours and ….. I don’t understand a Chinese meal with a bread roll and cheese and crackers.

Beef and mushroom braised noodles

Noodles, of course with the obligatory roll and, because it’s breakfast, a pot of marmalade. I didn’t eat too much of this one….it was pretty dire to be honest.

On the upside I have been enjoying some very good home cooked food whilst being in Singapore and we head off to Penang tomorrow morning hopefully to feast on some of Malaysia’s best street foods.

Stay tuned!

Quiche Lorraine

Whilst watching the latest series of Masterchef Australia I was inspired to try and make quiche lorraine. I usually end up watching Masterchef in the evening as I’m doing some recipe translations. It’s a triple whammy of being hungry, watching … Continue reading

Candy Coloured Birthday Macarons

What more needs to be said than candy coloured birthday macarons?

I haven’t actually made macarons for a while, which might be why my first batch were the biggest disaster I have ever seen. They were completely collapsed, the foot had oozed out into a foamy mess not unlike that of a dying slug. It wasn’t pretty. And the worst part is that I have no idea what happened.

The batter felt weirdly “tough” as I mixed it and I kind of knew at that point something was wrong, but I didn’t realised the extent of the disaster until they were in the oven. It was the stuff of macaron nightmares.

The only thing I can think was that the egg whites were too stiff…. but looking back I don’t remember it being so stiff as to cause a disastrous batch. Although I probably should, I will not be trying to replicate that batch to figure out what went wrong.

I could just sigh and resignedly weigh out my ingredients again. And luckily the rest came out much better. Not perfect….but better.

Flavours: The pink are raspberry, the green are elderflower and the orange are orange (obviously!).

The macarons were to match a 21st birthday cake with a pink riding hat, a Ted baker bag and a bottle of nail polish. Some of the macs were also personalised to spell out the birthday girl’s name.

My dad helped me out with painting the letters onto the macs as I am quite artistically challenged, and of course the beautiful cake is my mum’s handiwork. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what Rose Apple Bakery has been up to for the past couple of days!

Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake

This is a wonderfully easy lemon drizzle cake which I first saw a few years ago on Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets.

I made this cake several times whilst I was at university just because it’s so quick and perfectly fitted in with my study schedule: 20 minutes to make the batter, study for 1 hour whilst it’s baking and then a 15 minute break to glaze (a very therapeutic task by the way), back to studying for an hour or so before taking the perfect excuse for another break and settling down with my flatmates for tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.

As you can probably tell baking was on par with studying in my priorities, even during final year exams hehe (notice I say on par with, not higher than, so don’t get any funny ideas kids) But there was always time to cook and definitely always time to bake.

Adapted from BBC Food

5 eggs
300g caster sugar
140ml double cream
3-4 large lemons, zest only
1 pinch salt
80g unsalted butter, melted
240g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp apricot jam
1 lemon, zest and juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Lightly butter a 26cm x 9cm x 8cm loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cream, lemon zest, salt and butter.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder into the egg mixture and whisk until you have a smooth batter.
  5. Pour batter into the tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.
  6. Remove cake from the tin and turn out onto a cooking rack. Allow to cool for 10 mins, this allows the steam to escape before glazing. Leave the oven turned on.
  7. Brush the cake with the warmed apricot glaze and leave for five minutes whilst you make the lemon glaze.
  8. Mix together the lemon juice, zest and icing sugar.
  9. Heat the glaze in a small pan or in the microwave, until the sugar has dissolved and you have a syrup.
  10. Brush the glaze all over the cake and leave for a few minutes to set.
  11. Then place the glazed cake in the oven on a baking tray, turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes to dry the glaze and turn it translucent.
  12. Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature before serving.